Local college students see ministry to Birmingham’s homeless ‘evolve’

Kayla Haller, Hope to Homeless Ministry
Photo courtesy of Kayla Haller

Local college students see ministry to Birmingham’s homeless ‘evolve’

Three 19-year-olds who met at Thompson High School, Alabaster, found their hearts touched by the plight of Birmingham’s homeless population, and now, two years later, they see their ministry expanding.

“‘Hope to Homeless’ or H2H, is changing and we’re changing with it,” says Kayla Haller of Calera. 

The three primary leaders are still Haller, who will graduate in December from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, with a degree in psychology; Tyger Quarles, a human and organizational development major at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee; and Graisi Smith, an early education major at UAB. 

Haller “discovered” homeless people when she enrolled at UAB and moved to Birmingham. She began to build relationships with some she saw regularly. She said she has never been afraid and only found appreciation from them in return.

Haller noted there are an estimated 6,000 homeless in Alabama.

“Our homeless are located primarily in Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham, and some believe as many as 4,000 are in Birmingham,” she said. “You might not see them on the busiest of streets, since they seek out areas without as much traffic. They seek shelter under overpasses and bridges and use trees to dry their clothes after it rains.”

Haller said during the COVID-19 pandemic H2H volunteers have been distributing packed drawstring bags from their car windows to minimize contact. 

“Our bags look different in summer and winter,” she explained. “We collect non-perishable items such as snacks, soap, socks and Bibles, but include coats and blankets in the winter [which] is especially hard for the homeless. The [Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex] in downtown Birmingham offers winter shelter at night when temperatures drop to a certain level, but the shelter is only for the night.

All three students have found support from their churches with collecting needed items. Haller is a member of Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster; Smith is a member of Hunter Street Baptist, Hoover; and Quarles is a member of Christian Life Church also in Hoover.

 Haller said another new thing for H2H is a custom gift list on Amazon under “Hope to Homeless.”

Involving more ministries

The group partnered recently with Firehouse Ministries that provides shelters for men, women and children (firehouseshelter.com). Haller said they hope to involve more ministries under the H2H umbrella due to Birmingham’s size and its great need.

She plans to attend law school there or in Tuscaloosa, and dreams of expanding H2H to Tuscaloosa if she chooses it.

“Long-term I’d love for us to open a job resource center in Birmingham,” she said. “The homeless need help in completing job applications and resumes, and this is important in order to transition from homeless to employment.”

Haller noted she and her friends are happy to talk with local churches about the vision for H2H and the urgency of additional ministry, adding, “What we need is more hygiene and food items, more workers and more storage between our packing parties and distributions.”

H2H has a Facebook page (Hope to Homeless Outreach) and an Instagram account (hopetohomelessbham). The email address is hopehomelessoutreach@gmail.com.